Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a sci-fi video game with a story that is disturbing because it reminds me so much of our own times while living under the threats of terrorism, cultural and racial segregation, corruption, and Machiavellian politics. It is a serious examination of the consequences of cynically pitting one group of humans against another, and it’s a lesson for us all on how to avoid a future of oppression and shadow.
Mankind Divided combines this serious theme with a cast of memorable characters, including the frustrated augmented hero, Adam Jensen. It mixes that with a bleak cyberpunk vision of the future, an oppressive totalitarian landscape, and gameplay that combines the genres of action, stealth, and role-playing games.
The game from Square Enix and Eidos Montreal is one of the biggest releases of the year, and its ambitions are huge. It has flaws, and it isn’t easy to play it in a way that keeps you immersed in a seamless world. But it is well-executed enough to draw more fans to a franchise that has had a growing cult base with each major release. Diehard fans have waited five years for this, and they’ll enjoy the experience.
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It’s easy to spend 25 hours or more playing Mankind Divided, which comes out today. I played it on the Xbox One and the Windows PC. It’s also available on the PlayStation 4. I recommend you play it through a couple of times to master the gameplay. Here’s a link to our tips and tricks for playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
What you’ll like
The Deus Ex story is very compelling. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is set in 2029, two years after the events of 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution. With Mankind Divided, developer Eidos Montreal has created a near-open world where you can explore side quests, alternate paths, and craft solutions on the fly to overcome obstacles.
You play Adam Jensen, a mechanically enhanced ex-cop and former corporate security specialist who is now working for a newly formed counterterrorism division of Interpol. He can tap his “augs,” or augmentations, to accomplish superhuman feats, such as sneaking invisibly past guards or taking out a room full of enemies with an explosive blast.
In Human Revolution, Jensen’s job was to safeguard company researchers, but that changed when a black ops team killed the people he was hired to protect. He adapted augments to save his own life, and he started using his augmentations to hunt for answers. His investigation eventually revealed that a powerful shadow group, called The Illuminati, who controlled the world with their money and influence.
One of the Illuminati, Hugh Darrow, set off a signal that went to the chips installed in all of the mechanically augmented people worldwide (except Jensen), forcing them to murder millions of “natural” humans. He did so because he wanted to end all human enhancement forever. Mankind Divided takes place in 2027, two years after the “Aug Incident,” and the animosity between “augs” and “naturals” is at the breaking point. The augs have been put into ghettos, and the oppressive atmosphere feels totalitarian.
Jensen is working for Task Force 29, the part of Interpol that tracks down terrorists in an attempt to keep the peace. But the world is spinning out of control, with natural extremists advocating full segregation via the Human Restoration Act, a United Nations resolution that’s facing a vote. The aug revolutionaries have their own splinter group, the Augmented Rights Coalition, to take their defense into their own hands. Their group’s base is in Utulek, also known as Golem City, a ghetto on the outskirts of Prague in The Czech Republic.
Jensen wants to bring the people pulling the strings into the light. But he feels powerless to stop the cynical Machiavellian scheme of blaming the augs for the terrorist incidents. And his path forward is clouded by the presence of spies and double agents. Among the mysterious counter-forces is the Juggernaut Collective, an Anonymous-like hacking group with a leader who calls himself Janus.
This theme, where a lone hero stands up against powerful people who try to scapegoat the defenseless, is a mirror for our own society.
“We didn’t try to change the story to fit real-world events,” said Eidos Montreal producer Oliver Proulx in an interview with GamesBeat. “The themes we chose just resonate. Cyberpunk helps with that kind of interpretation. Unfortunately, some themes are a bit more prominent today than when we started designing the game.”
The beginning missions in Dubai and Prague
Mankind Divided starts with Jensen on a mission in Dubai. Prior to 2027, Dubai was one of a number of cities in the Middle East that embraced the lucrative benefits of mechanical augmentation. Construction and technology boomed there, with thousands of augmented works migrating in. But the Aug Incident devastated Dubai’s population, and two years later, it’s a ghost down of skyscrapers full of the dead.
Jensen and other Task Force 29 operatives are closing in on an arms deal. He has to move through an abandoned skyscraper in stealth, taking out members of the Jinn criminal group, on his way to the deal location. You can choose to take out enemies 1-by-1, skirt them entirely, or engage in open combat using augs such as your “Typhoon” capability, which causes an explosion that takes out anyone within range of Jensen. Just as Jensen and his team are about to pull their sting on the Jinn, a mysterious new armed force shows up to steal the weapons. Jensen has to act fast to stop the attack. The result is a huge firefight. The first time I did this mission, I accidentally stumbled on a quick resolution.
In the next scene, Jensen arrives in Prague to go to the Task Force 29 headquarters. The city is also trying to recover from the Aug Incident, and its solution is to curb the civil liberties of augmented humans. But as Jensen arrives at the train station, a terrorist bomb goes off, killing innocent people and disabling Jensen’s augmentations for a time. The bombing brings home the horror of a world living in constant fear, and it inspires an even tougher crackdown on civil liberties, where the authorities pull off augs on the streets and question them at gunpoint.
In contrast to Dubai, which is a fine tutorial mission, the pace slows down in Prague. You can explore the Czech Republic’s capital and its various districts. Both missions show the contrast between a tightly controlled experience and a more free-roaming open world experience, and that shows the tension between guiding the gamer and allowing the gamer to follow his or her own story.
An oppressive atmosphere
Prague is full of garbage, graffiti, homeless people, and deteriorating buildings — this all contributes to the oppressiveness I felt the moment I hit its streets. The police wear heavy armor and carry combat rifles. They stop and question augs as drones fly overhead.
The “races” are segregated. The subway has a line for “naturals” and a line for “augs.” The hatred is clear in the way the police interrogate each aug. Fear rules the streets. It’s not easy for Jensen to get around here, particularly in secret. The world of Prague is full of totalitarianism, corruption, and fear.
Likewise, the segregation camp on the outskirts of Prague is just as oppressive. The Utulek Complex, also known as Golem City, is the home of rebellious augs known as the Augmented Rights Coalition, and it’s ruled by an elusive leader named Talos Rucker. He is one of many interesting characters in Mankind Divided.
The story and the characters
The story of Deus Ex spans a lot of hours, with some well-done cinematic scenes following each major section of gameplay. The conspiracy gets darker and thicker, with spies and double agents complicating the web of competing interests — which include Interpol and its internal politics, competing multinational corporations, factions among the naturals and the augs, corrupt law enforcement, and criminal enterprises.
The cast of characters is big. Besides Jensen, there are some intriguing personalities that you come across, from billionaires like Nathaniel Brown to the mysterious Alejandra “Alex” Vega, a hacker employed by Janus, the leader of the equally mysterious Juggernaut Collective. You have to converse with these characters and make decisions based on whether you trust them or not. You’ll find that the lies run deep in Deus Ex.
Choices are hard
Jensen often has to make judgment calls on the fly. Who should he save? Which mission should he pursue first? Even the side missions are fully fleshed out with characters and stories, and that adds to the immersion of the world. The hard choices are consistent throughout the game, and the consequences tumble down in the most painful way most of the time.
Alternating between action and stealth
As the developers at Eidos Montreal noted in an interview, action is now a much more viable strategy.
“With Mankind Divided, we wanted to perfect Human Revolution,” said Jean-Francois Dugas, executive game director at Eidos Montreal. “Even though it was a good game, I never thought it was perfect. We wanted to balance the experience a bit more, bring a more visceral component to the experience. When you look at Human Revolution, stealth was here and combat was there. They weren’t on the same level.”
It has augmentations like the Typhoon, which lets you wipe out a bunch of enemies surrounding you with an explosion that emanates from Jensen. That makes the action path much easier to pursue, because you can actually survive when you’re in open combat with a bunch of enemies.
But the art of playing the game is knowing when to sneak around an obstacle or when to challenge the enemies directly. My most common tactic was to take on an outlier guard first and then go after others one at a time … until I had no choice but to directly attack the remaining guards.
An occasional sense of humor
On a side mission, Jensen asks a character, “Do you think I just walk around shooting people?”
She replies, “Don’t you?”
Jensen replies, “I like to have a reason first.”
I liked that exchange, and Mankind Divided has more moments of levity that lightened the mood.
Breach is a pleasant surprise
In the Deus Ex: Breach mode, you can take a break from the weighty story and fight in cyberspace. Your job is to hack your way into the Palisade Bank Corporation, which holds the secrets of the extremely wealthy. It uses both physical and digital measures to safeguard its information, and your task is to hack the system and expose the truth.
This game is a re-imagining of the hacking mini game within the campaign. In the hacking mini game, you try to take over servers one by one, with abstract graphics to guide you. But in Breach, you are inside the computer world, a hacker in a physical space, taking over servers in data center rooms. You may run into guards that you have to take out, just as Jensen does, by hitting them from behind. You can shoot them with your gun, or just sneak by them. Breach is like a metaphorical treatment of Deus Ex, where you are inside the hacking world, and it’s also quite fun to solve mind puzzles under the gun of the ticking clock.
Variety of augmentations
Mankind Divided has a lot of new augmentations that Jensen can use. These range from the glass-shield cloaking, which makes you invisible for so many seconds, to the ability to sense all of the enemies around you. Each one of these effects gameplay in a big way, and the designers have to think them through carefully.
If Jensen becomes like Superman, Mankind Divided becomes too easy. But the careful balance of energy, costs, and capabilities makes it very hard to choose which augmentations are right for you. Fortunately, you can alternate between the augs that you’ve purchased without a lot of trouble. The augs help you to be creative when it comes to solving problems. They give you options. And that makes you feel like you are creating the story, rather than just following it.
The depiction of the cyberworld is imaginative
On some of the missions, you’ll find that you have to hack into a computer or walk into a cyber experience. Those places allow the artists to come up with a physical place that depicts the cyber world, and the results are quite a departure from the art style of the rest of the game. It’s a nice surprise.
What you won’t like
The first-person combat isn’t fully baked, as the enemies are both unpredictable and stupid. The unpredictable part makes them harder to kill, which makes the game more challenging. But they’re amazingly good shots sometimes, which means that they’re a lot harder to kill than the enemies in a Call of Duty game. The combat isn’t that fluid, and so it takes a while to get used to it. That means you have to stay hidden and fire back when you’ve got a good target, even if that target is behaving really stupidly by failing to find cover.
Bugs and awkward animations
I played an early version of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and I’ve gone back over the finished product a little. I had a hard time slogging through parts where some basic things just weren’t operational. The framerate slowed down on both the Xbox One and my Windows PC.
When you drag a body into a corner, it’s laughable how the body bounces around like a rag doll. I’m hoping that the day one patch will go a long way to fixing this. It would be so nice to play it through again without all of the annoying bugs.
Unnecessary scavenger hunts
I found that I had to scavenge for everything. Even when I was inside my own headquarters for Task Force 29. I couldn’t even go to the armory and get new special munitions and supplies, such as Biocells. You have to hope you’ll accidentally find supplies within the building or at the merchants. That makes it hard to stock up from mission to mission.
Navigational and user-interface aids are weak
Mankind Divided has no way to spell out waypoint paths for you, so you have to constantly check the map to see whether you are on target to your destination, especially when you are making turns on the crooked streets of Prague. An objective marker that tells you where to go in general, but it often doesn’t tell you what floor you need to be on in order to reach it. In a seven-story building, this is particularly annoying. I spent hours getting lost when a simple suggestion about where to go next would have really helped.
Not only did I need better navigational aids, I also could have used a better user interface. The player would benefit enormously from seeing a full description of the various augmentations. It’s quite easy to use them accidentally, or at the wrong time, and that’s a big problem for some of the augs that are very expensive to use a single time.
Throughout the game, there are these faulty user interface problems. Like going to the train station. It took me a while to figure out that you can follow an objective marker on the various train destinations, without getting lost in the transit system. On the side missions, I spent a lot of time looking for yellow objective markers in the landscape, when I should have been looking for blue markers. It just wasn’t that obvious, when it should have been, where I was supposed to go.
The difficulty levels aren’t tuned
I encountered a police barricade that was giving me a lot of trouble. So I found a sewer opening that could serve as a path around that. I followed it, but ran into a puzzling barrier involving an electrical malfunction. I couldn’t get past it, so I had to figure out another way around. That was very frustrating, and it seemed like the simple task — coming early in the game — had become too hard. I was ready to quit right then.
The ending is a letdown
When I got to the actual ending, I was disappointed. It seemed like the end of a chapter, with a cliffhanger about what would happen with the real important enemies. While the ending of Human Revolution was about preventing a global catastrophe between the augs and the natural humans, this ending carries less weight. It almost feels like a chess game between pawns has ended, while the kings and the queens are hiding in the shadows.
The Deus Ex series has a great storyline, and it paints a compelling, serious vision of the future that we should all consider to be a warning, given our own divisive political climate. I love how a video game can bring up a serious subject and hold up a mirror to our own times.
But the ending makes it feel like this story just isn’t finished, that it’s simply a midway marker to a larger, more weighty tale with a full and satisfying ending. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided takes us only part way there, and we still want to get to those enemies in the shadows.
Add to that some numerous bugs and complications that could scare off novice players and you’ll find that this game can be as frustrating as it is promising and ambitious. I think players will enjoy the game and they should play it all the way through to the end. But I also think Eidos Montreal can do better.
The best Deus Ex game is still ahead of us.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is out now for the Xbox One, the Windows PC, and the PlayStation 4. GamesBeat received a copy of the Xbox One and PC version of the game from the publisher for the purposes of this review.